Floorish Newsletter 🚫 Victory for Dutch Far-Right

Welcome to the eleventh edition of the Floorish newsletter dedicated to providing you with insightful data, ideas and views on diversity, equity and inclusion. In this newsletter, taking no more than 3 minutes of your time, I aim to keep you informed and inspired with thought-provoking content, practical tips and inspiring stories.

The recent Dutch elections revealed a tremendous shift in the country’s political landscape. The overwhelming success of Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) has triggered concern across a wide spectrum of individuals. His party won 37 (24.7%) of the seats, leading ahead of the left-wing GL-PVDA alliance (25 seats, 16.7%), centre-right VVD (24 seats, 16%), and the emerging NSC (20 seats, 13.3%) at the centre. In the Dutch parliament, political parties strive for a 76-seat majority out of the 150 House of Representatives seats. This week marks the beginning of the process to identify coalition partners for the formation of a government.

For individuals committed to advocating inclusivity, observing this shift underscores the depth of social divisions that overshadow the core values of tolerance and acceptance.

Frequently compared to Trump, Wilders began his political journey in the early 1990s with the VVD, which he left in 2004 to start the PVV. Known for his firm anti-Islam and immigration positions, Wilders, who stated, “I don’t hate Muslims. I hate Islam,” has compared the Quran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, proposing its prohibition and advocating for the shutdown of mosques in the Netherlands.

In the recent elections, Wilders focused on tackling what he called the “asylum tsunami,” linking it to social issues like housing shortages and rising healthcare expenses. He also proposed a binding EU exit referendum and stepping back from global climate commitments.

Wilders’ attainment of 37 seats marks a surge of 20 from his previous standing. This alteration signifies a wider international trend observed within the Netherlands and across multiple countries. The rise of right-wing leadership after elections mirrors a departure from the prior predominant progressive position in the Netherlands.

Several factors contributed to Wilders’ victory, including:

1. Potential Coalition Support: The centre-right VVD leader, Dilan Yeşilgöz, signalled openness to a coalition with Wilders’ party, a significant departure from the VVD’s past stance of not collaborating with PVV since 2012. This shift in coalition prospects created new possibilities, potentially swaying voters sympathetic to Wilders’ party. Just a day before the election, Yeşilgöz stated though: “Wilders should not expect the VVD to join his cabinet. This country needs a leader who can unite.”

2. Mainstream’s Right Turn: The VVD’s campaign highlighted immigration as a central issue, aligning closer to the far-right stance. This strategy, triggered by the cabinet collapse over asylum divisions, emphasised regaining control over migration. Research suggests that when mainstream parties adopt far-right positions, it often benefits the far-right itself. Additionally, the left’s inability to offer compelling responses to major issues failed to resonate convincingly with voters.

3. Softened & Broadened Approach: Wilders adopted a less confrontational tone and signalled a willingness to compromise on some radical demands in potential coalition talks. This strategy presented Wilders as more acceptable and ready for governance, potentially attracting voters who were previously hesitant about his party’s radicalism. Furthermore, he broadened his focus beyond migration while at the same time consistently linking urgent crises within the Netherlands, such as housing, with the complexities of migration challenges.

4. Quick Fixes vs. Long-term Message: Populist leaders, like Wilders, prioritise quick fixes and individual benefits, portraying themselves as advocates for present-day problems. Conversely, left-leaning ideologies, such as those advocated by GL-PVDA, tackle enduring societal issues like climate change and social equity, concentrating on future consequences. With rising living costs, notably in energy and food, along with housing, healthcare and migration concerns among the Dutch population, many prioritised the immediate message due to its perceived short-term value.

5. Candidate Performance & Familiarity: As the Netherlands braced for the prospect of its first new prime minister in 13 years, Wilders emerged as a significant contender with his compelling performances in the crucial week leading up to the elections. This, along with his sustained prominence in Dutch politics as the head of his party, while many larger parties saw changes in leadership, fostered a significant sense of familiarity among voters. After the results were evident, GL-PVDA leader Frans Timmermans remarked, “If, in the coming days, you encounter people nearby, at school, or at work who wonder, “Do I still belong here?” You clearly say: YES. We’ve got your back.” Some questioned whether he should have expressed himself more passionately earlier.

An intriguing and multifaceted observation emerges regarding Wilders’ voters. Despite assumptions that Dutch citizens with a migration background wouldn’t typically support him, the backing of some highlights their complex attitudes towards the refugee issue. While some show openness towards accepting war refugees, there appears to be less support for family reunification, indicating a nuanced hesitation towards admitting other categories of refugees. Furthermore, a segment of the immigrant community leans towards conservative ideologies, aligning with Wilders’ conservative and authoritative stance.

In my blog DEI & Trauma, I addressed reasons why ethnic minorities can endorse politicians who explicitly oppose affirmative action or other corrective measures that address their long-standing discrimination. Furthermore, that blog could illuminate VVD leader Yesilgöz’s firm stance on immigration policies and her emphasis on her Dutch identity despite being a former refugee with politically active Turkish Kurdish parents who fled Turkey when she was eight.

Lastly, the growing acceptance of far-right politics signifies a significant transformation in the political sphere. While in 2000, the inclusion of the Austrian Freedom Party in a coalition faced widespread condemnation, by 2023, it has become commonplace across Europe for far-right parties to govern, often forming alliances with centre-right counterparts.

Despite the shift in the Netherlands I want to emphasise our history of championing progressive values, evident in landmark legislative milestones such as the decriminalisation of cannabis (1976), legalisation of prostitution (2000), legalisation of same-sex marriage (2001), and pioneering euthanasia laws (2002). Furthermore, since 1994, the country has continuously strengthened anti-discrimination laws, emphasising equality regardless of race, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. This unwavering dedication to inclusivity and social justice stands as a foundation and I earnestly hope that these principles will continue to be upheld and strengthened in the times ahead. May we draw valuable lessons from these elections.

I hope these insights have sparked your curiosity and I invite you to share any data, ideas or views you believe should be highlighted in future newsletters. Stay tuned for the next edition.

Warm regards,

Floor Martens

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